When a friend or family member is struggling, our natural instinct is to take action and give them what we consider “helpful” advice for handling the situation. But in the case of how to help someone with depression, hold off on the guidance and just listen. “Listening with compassion allows your friend to express the wrenching physical and emotional aspects of depression,” says Deborah Serani, PsyD, award-winning author of Living with Depression and a professor of psychology at Adelphi University. “Things to say include, ‘I want to know what you’re going through,’ ‘What can I do to help you feel better?’ and ‘I’m here for you, to talk to and support you.'” Allowing people to open up on their own terms helps them feel validated. Here are some “helpful” comments to avoid.
Realize that you actually don’t “know how they feel”
Clinical depression is not the same as sadness. “Most people suffering from depression are hesitant to open up because of the stigma that comes with it,” says psychologist and author Susan Fletcher, PhD. “Many times well-meaning friends try to make people feel better by telling them they know how they feel.” But this makes people with true depression feel like their difficulty is being minimized. Instead, convey the message: ‘I may not understand what you are going through, but I want to learn more,'” Dr. Fletcher says. Learn more about the symptoms of depression.